LABOR MK Avishai Braverman looks at a model of a crane 370.
(photo credit: Knesset)
Labor party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich walloped Ashdod Port’s omnipotent union
chief where it really hurt. She highlighted his lifestyle, hardly compatible in
Israeli terms with that of a proletarian warrior.
Alon Hassan, she noted,
lives in a “sumptuous home, with a swimming pool in the yard, drives luxury
vehicles, operates a plethora of private enterprises – which all mysteriously do
business with the port – promotes nepotism and cronyism in public tenders,
imposes a reign of terror at the port and even closes it down for private
Hassan treats Ashdod Port as his personal property, to be
used to his advantage and aggrandizement.
Recent revelations that Hassan
operated shipping, moving and cleaning firms that did brisk and lucrative
transactions with the port triggered the latest hullabaloo and forced him to
magnanimously suspend himself.
But the mire of shady dealings and the
callous, blatant waste of taxpayer shekels were hardly unknown. This contributed
to the backlash against Yacimovich for daring to castigate corrupt union
There is no doubt that Yacimovich should have spoken out before
this became a cause célèbre. Israel’s seaports had for decades been hotbeds of
infamous union corruption that flourished under the protective aegis of the
Histadrut labor federation. From time to time new sleazy details surfaced to
scandalize public opinion but the underlying slime was never washed down and
The Histadrut regularly rejected any clean-up as a nefarious
plot against organized labor. The unions continued to behave badly and
grotesquely demonstrate their intensifying abuse of the system that made them
Against this background, Yacimovich’s denunciation of union
malfeasance is exceptionally courageous and should be lauded. Better late than
never – especially from the ranks of the Labor Party, which is still tied to the
The festering malaise at our seaports is not
merely the transgression of given individuals. It is endemic and facilitates
illicit control by a succession of strongmen who assume they can abuse the
citizenry ad infinitum.
Each time a new government tries for a showdown,
with an eye to reforming the ports, union honchos triumph, mostly because of the
power they have to hold the rest of us to ransom and effectively shut down the
The Histadrut consistently backs this extortion.
posturing as the champion of the have-nots, our labor federation has evolved
into a monopolist oligarchy of the 13 most powerful unions – including that of
the port employees. They are by far the public sector’s highest earners
(considerably more so than the runners-up in the Israel Electric Corporation).
It is the in-your-face excesses and unabashed power grabs by these public sector
fat-cats that the Histadrut has been defending most ferociously.
shenanigans cost ordinary Israeli households cumulatively more than do the
tycoons at the top of the pyramid. Corrupt employees not only bite into an
unfair share of the national tax revenue, but, when they gum up the works at the
ports, they make our imports more expensive and our exports less
No society can allow itself to be held up this way, much
less one whose economy is already so hard-pressed.
deform Israel’s commerce and underscore the urgency to privatize Ashdod and
Haifa ports. Pro forma, that is the current government’s aim.
But we have
heard it all before. Embattled as the government is just to balance the budget,
it is doubtful that it would go out on a limb and incur Histadrut wrath with a
That, of course, is unfortunate, because without a
thorough overhaul, systemic defects will continue to undermine proper
administration and corrode public trust.
Only privatizing the ports will
in the long run increase their efficiency, by introducing constructive
competition between them.
Monopoly power is fundamentally destructive. It
is the duty of a government to serve the people who installed it in office and
break up corrosive monopolies that stymie free competition. It is high time to
remind the Hassans on the waterfront that the ports do not belong to them but to
all of us.